While I would be hard pressed to even remotely suggest that the Beatles live a Christian life to be emulated. Yet one of there earliest hits was a lesson that I still see the church struggle with today.
In the twentieth century, along with the rise of radio and television, many ministries sprung up all over the world that revolved around the calling of being an Evangelist. Now, not only could you become famous worldwide, but complete strangers would send you money. And every television ministry would present huge numbers at the end of their program on who got saved at their evangelistic outreaches. There used to be a joke that went something like “What do you call someone who has three sermons and a tent . . . An Evangelist!” Unlike the role of the pastor, there were no long term commitments. Just roll into town, set up shop, have three meetings, blast the local sin, talk about how loving God is, take their money and leave for the next town. No long-term commitments, no need for accountability, no need to demonstrate the fruit of the spirit. And no personal growth. The only growth anyone was concerned with was how many raised their hands at the end of the meeting. But the problem was, if you added up all the numbers of all the evangelistic associations claimed to have reached, the world would have been reached several times over. Whether or not that person was loving was never a measurement in the success category.
There never was an emphasis on the quality of the harvest, just the size of the harvest. From that another joke emerged in pastoral circles. When referring to numbers, one would respond “Well evangelistically speaking . . . .” While on one hand I must admit I admire the quantity of hamburgers that McDonald’s sells each year, I would be hard pressed to say any of their burgers were any I could remember as the best hamburger I ever ate. But boy, they sure knew how to crank them out. One would think based upon the billions and billions served, world hunger would have been conquered. People still live-in poverty, not able to afford even the most bare-boned value menu. But as long as that money has changed hands, why worry about obesity that is associated with the fast-food culture, and the extreme hunger worldwide.
Consider these three passages related to money and the Kingdom of God:
- 2 Kings 5:15-16, 19-27 NIV – 15 Then Naaman and all his attendants went back to the man of God. He stood before him and said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel. So please accept a gift from your servant.” 16 The prophet answered, “As surely as the LORD lives, whom I serve, I will not accept a thing.” And even though Naaman urged him, he refused. … 19 “Go in peace,” Elisha said. After Naaman had traveled some distance, 20 Gehazi, the servant of Elisha the man of God, said to himself, “My master was too easy on Naaman, this Aramean, by not accepting from him what he brought. As surely as the LORD lives, I will run after him and get something from him.” 21 So Gehazi hurried after Naaman. When Naaman saw him running toward him, he got down from the chariot to meet him. “Is everything all right?” he asked. 22 “Everything is all right,” Gehazi answered. “My master sent me to say, ‘Two young men from the company of the prophets have just come to me from the hill country of Ephraim. Please give them a talent of silver and two sets of clothing.’ ” 23 “By all means, take two talents,” said Naaman. He urged Gehazi to accept them, and then tied up the two talents of silver in two bags, with two sets of clothing. He gave them to two of his servants, and they carried them ahead of Gehazi. 24 When Gehazi came to the hill, he took the things from the servants and put them away in the house. He sent the men away and they left. 25 When he went in and stood before his master, Elisha asked him, “Where have you been, Gehazi?” “Your servant didn’t go anywhere,” Gehazi answered. 26 But Elisha said to him, “Was not my spirit with you when the man got down from his chariot to meet you? Is this the time to take money or to accept clothes–or olive groves and vineyards, or flocks and herds, or male and female slaves? 27 Naaman’s leprosy will cling to you and to your descendants forever.” Then Gehazi went from Elisha’s presence and his skin was leprous–it had become as white as snow.
- Acts 3:6 NASB – 6 But Peter said, “I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene–walk!”
- Acts 8:17-23 NIV – 17 Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. 18 When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money 19 and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” 20 Peter answered: “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! 21 You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. 23 For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.”
In all three cases to take money in exchange for the free gift of God is considered to be absurd if not downright abhorrent in the eyes of God. Yes, money was given to support these ministries. But like love, once it is demanded, it is no longer a free gift.
The unspoken theology is that you can pay others to become more spiritual.
Consider what God looks for to qualify as a successful ministry:
- Galatians 5:22-23 NIV – 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
I know of no ministry school that says come to us and will help you become more loving, joyful, kind etc.. Because these are traits that money can not buy. These are the traits that I have found is what ultimately cause ministries to be successful, because they occur naturally based upon who you are as person, not what you can transact with other people. I can own the best soil in town, have the most well-watered vineyard, own the best equipment possible, but if I start with bad grapes I will end up with bad grapes. All I will produce is more of what I already am. And there lies with the rub with thinking an exchange of money will make one more loving. Money may help to make you famous, but not more loving. Love is the quality that makes you successful in the eyes of God. Not numbers nor miracles (the subject of my next post).
So with that I acknowledge that I will pause my thought for today and encourage everyone, especially myself, to love much my friends . . . .